From the President — September, 2016

By Elaine Henson

Due to popular demand, our Bathing Suit Exhibit will be open through the month of September on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10-4.  So you have a last chance to come in and see it if you haven’t already.

It gives me an opportunity to feature one last Carolina Beach bathing beauty and we may have saved the best for last.

Hannah Solomon Block hailed from Portsmouth, Virginia when she moved to Wilmington in 1935 as the bride of Charles M. Block, one of the founders of Block’s Shirt Factory.  The couple built a home in Forest Hills, but also had a cottage at Carolina Beach where she became the first woman head lifeguard on the North Carolina coast.  She served in that post from 1940 to 1949 while many men were away during WWII.

In addition to being head lifeguard, she also served as Chairman of the Carolina Beach Water Safety and First Aid Committee Henson #1who operated a first aid station in Town Hall located at that time on the boardwalk. The station was established in 1936 as the first Red Cross Highway First Aid Station in eastern North Carolina.  Hannah’s duties included running the station, training life guards, training town employees in first aid and life guarding herself. During WWII she was also a charter member of the USO and on its Board of Directors.

Block swimsuit

Courtesy of the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science

This photo from the May 30, 1946 edition of the Wilmington Evening Post shows her with two lifeguards demonstrating life saving techniques in transporting a stretcher case to the first aid station.  She is wearing a black bathing suit with her Red Cross lifesaving patch; the suit was most likely made of wool knit very similar to one in our exhibit.

Many years later, Hannah donated a similar bathing suit to the Cape Fear Museum for their collection. It is a Jantzen with the familiar Swim Girl logo and also has her Red Cross Lifesaving patch.

Hannah Block went on to devote her life serving her adopted hometown working on the Azalea Festival Committee in many capacities, helping organize the first Miss North Carolina Pageant (1947), training Miss Wilmington for the NC Pageant for 40 years, serving as the first woman Mayor Pro Tem of the Wilmington City Council (1961-63), and being a pioneer in restoring houses in the Historic District among many other activities.

Her work with the USO during WWII was rewarded in 2008 when the former 1940 USO Building was renamed the Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center in her honor.